October 9th, 2014
German Chancellor Angela Merkel with German Students
Photo credit: AP/Michael Probst
Germany recently announced tuition free higher education across the country for its citizens and international students attending state/public institutions. This news has stirred many here in the U.S. who resorted to posting comments and rants on various social media platforms mocking Germany for its free higher education policy. Dubious and untrusting of anything that is “free,” many posted forecasts of a dark future for any country embarking on the same path; from the loss of academic freedom, to indoctrination, and higher taxes positioning government in charge of dictating curriculum.
Here is a sampling of the comments I gleaned from various online blogs covering Germany’s news:
“Nothing is free. The taxpayers will foot the bill and pay higher taxes because of it. Once tax dollars start paying for college tuition, then the government can start dictating what is taught, and what can’t be taught. I really hope this works out for Germany, but I’m having serious doubts that it will.”
“Actually in the U.S. professors have tons of choice in what they can teach. Whether you believe it or not now, after “free” college is established indoctrination will be a matter of course.”
“I agree with you. Nothing is free and the government dictating what is taught is not an education, it’s a propaganda machine. In addition, deciding lifestyles for your citizens at 14 years of age…no thank you! I’ll pay for my own education!”
Lest we have forgotten, higher education in the U.S., though not 100% free, until the mid-1970’s was very affordable and accessible. The GI Bill and federal grants helped students with the cost of tuition without being burdened with student loan debts on graduation. However, double-digit inflation, an oil embargo, and a sluggish economy replaced federal grants (main source of funding for students from both poor and middle-class households) with private loans. You can read more on this in a blog I wrote on the High Cost of Higher Education.
Let us dispel myths, paranoia and inaccuracies and instead of mocking tuition free education, learn a few facts on the German higher education system:
• About 1.98 million students are currently studying at German institutions of higher education. Almost half of them (48%) are women.
• A total of 376 higher education institutions offer study programs, including 102 universities, 170 universities of applied sciences and 69 private colleges. In recent years, the number of foreign students has significantly increased.
• The German higher education system has many different types of institutions offering diversity to students to select the best course for their needs. Students interested in education with more emphasis on practical knowledge will pursue studies at a university of applied sciences; those interested in theoretical research, attend a university and so forth.
• In total, there are approximately 9,500 different undergraduate programs and a further 6,800 postgraduate degree programs on offer at higher education institutions throughout Germany.
• Due to the federal system in Germany, responsibility for education, including higher education, lies entirely with the individual federal states. The states are responsible for the basic funding and organization of higher education institutions. Each state has its own laws governing higher education. Therefore, the actual structure and organization of the various systems of higher education may differ from state to state.
• Higher education institutions in Germany have a certain degree of autonomy in matters concerning organization and any academic issues. In the last two decades this autonomy has been increasingly broadened to include issues related to human resources and budget control.
It doesn’t appear that institutions of higher education in Germany have had their autonomy usurped by their government. Or, higher taxes have lessened opportunities for its citizens and international students to pursue higher education. In fact, it is the contrary.
We are misdirected if we believe it is government that will meddle in our institutions of higher education. We need to be more concerned about corporate influences and private funds from the likes of the conservative billionaire industrialists, who pledge to donate large sums to publicly funded universities on the condition that they are given the right to interfere in faculty hiring to influence curriculum and promote programs that are in line with their political and economic agenda.
A heated debate is currently underway in Colorado where high school students are protesting a revision in their Advanced Placement History curriculum proposed by a few conservative members of the School Board. The students are demanding to be taught history that in their words is not “white-washed” while the School Board is digging its heels to have the curriculum revised so that the history taught is from the American perspective. According to a report: “The elective course has been criticized by the Republican National Committee and the Texas State Board of Education, which has told teachers not to teach according to the course’s new framework. Being taught for the first time this year, it gives greater attention to the history of North America and its native people before colonization and their clashes with Europeans, but critics say it downplays the settlers’ success in establishing a new nation.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/02/colorado-school-board-history_n_5924898.html
The past and recent events prove one thing; that we need to be equally concerned at the power and influence private donors and political partisan groups wield on our education system as much as our fear of government meddling and indoctrination.
President & CEO, ACEI